Review of Amanpulo resort, Pamalican Island, Philippines

What are Aman hotels?

My husband had been going on about Aman hotels for a couple of years and was always watching and reading reviews. Until meeting him I was somewhat of a budget traveller; spending more than £100 a night on a hotel seemed excessive and I’d only ever ‘splashed out’ on a couple of places, usually due to circumstances like New Year’s Eve stays. I knew about the Four Seasons and the Mandarin Oriental (but nothing about what they were like or the likely cost of staying there) but I had never even heard of Aman hotels and I think a lot of people who aren’t into luxury travel haven’t even.

For the uninitiated, Aman is the Four Seasons of the Four Seasons; it makes the Four Seasons look like the Premier Inn. Aman’s reputation is one of discreet luxury centred around exceptional service rather than glitzy lobbies. The décor is typically understated and natural, sometimes bordering on the rustic; Aman hotels blend seamlessly into their surroundings. There are just 32 Aman hotels in 20 countries, predominantly in Asia.

Understated Aman interiors in the Aman spa, Amanpulo

Understated Aman interiors and amazing views in the Aman spa

Why stay at an Aman hotel?

We were looking for the perfect hotel for our ‘proper’ honeymoon. Having already had a ‘mini moon’ in South Korea, which you can read about here, we needed to be in Malaysia for a wedding later in the year and were looking for a luxury beach getaway to tack onto the trip. We were looking for a private island setting to take off all the pressure of sightseeing and to be waited on hand and foot. The attention to service is really second to none with an average of four staff per guest at an Aman hotel (at least according to Wikipedia).

If you are looking for seclusion and service you will struggle to do better than an Aman. In a traditional hotel you might think the height of luxury is an imposing lobby with receptionists, porters and concierges scurry around to serve you. At Aman you need to forget what you thought you knew about exceptional service. There are no lobbies, no desks, everything happens by a kind of ‘Aman magic’. From the moment you arrive they know who you are, check in completed in your room, no one in any of the resorts restaurants will ask for your room number and when you leave you discreetly settle your bill in the clubhouse. No fuss, no muss.

Amanpulo sunset

Amanpulo sunset

Why stay at the Amanpulo?

This is the ultimate private island getaway. So private you can only get there by the Aman’s private air transfer (unless you have your own jet – they also allow you to arrange private transfers…we are not quite in that league). Then there’s a density of the resort; you won’t be fighting anyone for a sun lounger (or anything else here). We got a sense of the amount of people staying when more or less all the guests gathered on the beach one evening for the release of baby turtles (they have a conservation project which was an unexpected bonus of our trip); there can’t have been more than 30 or 40 people.

The sea is something else; I still can’t believe my photos aren’t filtered. Even when it was overcast the sea was bright turquoise, I’m not sure I’ve seen a more beautiful sea anywhere. The sand is pure white and, because it’s a coral beach, the sand doesn’t get hot like many beaches in the Mediterranean – even in the blazing sun you can walk and sit on it and it doesn’t feel hot.

The colour of the water at Amanpulo is something else

The colour of the water at Amanpulo is something else

The waters around Pamalican Island are also home to reefs full of fish and these can be reached easily from the shore with flippers (also without but it’s a more taxing swim) as well as the daily snorkelling tour hosted by Aman. As a nesting place for Green and Hawksbill turtles you can also see turtles swimming in the waters near the shore and, if you’re there at the right time, you might also see the release of baby turtles on the beach from the Amanpulo breeding programme.

Review amanpulo palawanHow much will it cost to stay at the Amanpulo?

Amanpulo room types and rates

There are two main seasons: the peak season falling roughly January to April and the low season May to December, with some in-between prices during the transition between seasons. There are the usual variations in price for peak periods and holidays and during certain parts of the year there are some hefty minimum stays, like over Christmas and the New Year.

Prices vary depending on the time of year and your room type. There are three main room types plus private villas of varying sizes to rent.

The cheapest rooms are the Treetop Casitas (starting from $1150 per night to $1500 in peak season), followed by the mid-priced Hillside Casitas (around $1,350 per night up to $1,600 in peak season; more for a ‘deluxe’ with better view) followed by the Beach Casitas (starting around $1,650 up to $1900 in peak season). There is also a Treetop Casita room with a private pool available but I’ve yet to find out the cost of those. Unless you were desperate for complete privacy I would always spend that extra money to be on the beach rather than have a private pool but I guess that’s not for everyone.

There are also 2 and 4 bedroom villas with pools, butlers and cooks as standard…if you have to ask the price you can’t afford it! Apart from the villas, all of the Casitas are the same size and layout and with the same amenities – the only difference is the location (but the Beach Casitas have an additional outdoor shower and hammock).DSC06130

Amanpulo packages

Amanpulo offers various rates besides the standard daily rate (which includes breakfast but nothing else) which, depending on what you’re looking for, could offer better value. The ‘Extend your journey’ package seems to be widely available and includes a complimentary fourth night on stays of four nights or more (we stayed for five), so it’s certainly worth staying at least four nights as it brings your average room rate down drastically (it certainly made it seem more palatable to us!).

There are various other packages which add other items like the flight transfer, or additional free drinks in the room; given the price of the flight transfer is transparent and they give you various complimentary snacks and loads of water, I’m not convinced any of those rates are worth it.

The Kawayan bar off in the distance, Amanpulo

The Kawayan bar off in the distance

Then there are the more expensive packages that include some of the experiences. The Romance package, which adds roughly $600 per night to your bill, includes:

  • Arrival champagne and canapes
  • Daily breakfast (you get this with the standard rate anyway) and a la carte dinner for 2 at the restaurants (but not the Lagoon club)
  • One serenaded sunset cruise with cocktails and canapes for 2
  • One private beach BBQ for 2
  • A commitment ceremony or wedding blessing on the beach at sunset (or can be replaced by a 50 minute holistic massage for 2)
  • Prviate use of the Kawayan Bar for 2 hours (drinks etc. not included)
  • Non-alcoholic items in the Casita mini bar

If you want to do the experiences then this could represent decent value (although I recommend adding it all up to check first); I think our incidentals bill came to around $1000 per day so $600 is a saving (but you’ll have to pay for lunch on top and I’m not sure whether it includes drinks). Ultimately we went for the daily rate and paid for our additional experiences and food on top. Generally prices are fairly transparent once you’re there, but it always pays to check as many as it’s not the type of resort geared around keeping costs down.

Additional costs

Whatever you go for, you need to bear in mind the additional cost of the flight transfer. It’s not included in the standard rate, despite there being no other way of getting to Pamalican Island. A roundtrip transfer from Manila (which includes transfer between the airport and the Amanpulo lounge for same day flight connections) costs $495 per adult and $295 per child under 12 (free for under twos). It’s a fairly steep addition to the cost and I think it was more than the cost of our (business class) flight from Kuala Lumpur to Manila.

All rooms, flights, services, etc. are subject to a 10% service charge for foreigners (12% for Philippines passport holders) so it does start to rack up. All in all you should expect it to cost at least $2,000 per night and possibly more depending on the time of year and your room type.

How to get to Amanpulo – Amanpulo lounge and private air transfer

The only way to Pamalican Island is by private air transfer from Amanpulo’s lounge at a private terminal. Or you can take your own jet (lolz). Here they will take your passport, weigh your luggage, weight you (!) and get you settled into the lounge. There’s a fairly strict luggage limit of 20kg per adult for both carry on and hold luggage combined, although there are lockers for storing extra items or you can pay the fee of $20 per kilo excess.  Note that drones / any other aerial recording devices are prohibited from being used on the island (and must be stored at the lounge).

Inside the private hangar for Amanpulo

Inside the private hangar for Amanpulo

The lounge is tiny, but then so is the plane so there will always be room for everyone. There’s coffee, juice and water on offer and you can help yourself during your stay. Staff will also bring you a range of snacks when you arrive; we didn’t ask for a top up but I’m sure they would have been supplied. There are men’s and woman’s toilets (only one each) including a shower. There’s also free wifi available which was pretty fast. There’s not much more to it given it’s so small!

Snacks in the Amanpulo lounge

Pre-flight nibbles in the Amanpulo lounge – brownies, coconut cake, mango cake, nuts and crisps

Amanpulo offers free transfer from the international airport if you’re travelling on the same day as your arrival. Our driver was waiting for us in arrivals with a sign and took our cases to the car then drove us to the lounge. It was all seamless.

Inside the Amanpulo lounge

Inside the Amanpulo lounge

You need to be at the private hangar at least 90 minutes before your scheduled flight. There are two flights a day in eat direction and take approximately 70 minutes to travel the 360km south from Manila:

Manila to Pamalican: 13:00 – 14:10 and 16:00 – 17:10

Pamalican to Manila: 9:30 – 10:40 and 14:30 – 15:40

Standard check in time at Amanpulo is 14:00 with 12:00 check out. Unfortunately we couldn’t make the earlier flight as we were arriving that day from Kuala Lumpur so we took the 16:00 flight to get us there in time to explore and get some dinner. We even had time to jump in the sea and catch our first Amanpulo sunset. We took the later flight back so we could make the most of our last morning on the island but arriving in enough time for a flight to Singapore.

Heading to the plane for our transfer to Amanpulo

Heading to the plane for our transfer to Amanpulo

Once the plane was ready the staff asked us to start making our way across the red carpet laid out on the tarmac to board the plane. It’s a tiny 16 seater allowing you to see straight into the cockpit. It affords amazing views of the journey (or it would have done if it wasn’t so overcast) but the downside being that it’s a small aircraft which is extremely noisy and uncomfortable as the cabin is not pressurised.

Inside the private plane that takes you to Amanpulo

Inside the private plane that takes you to Amanpulo

There’s also no toilet or cabin crew, although each seat comes with a mini comfort pack of fan, moist towelette, blanket, ear plugs and water.

Comfort pack on the Amanpulo plane

Comfort pack on the Amanpulo plane

On our return trip a much larger aircraft ferried us back to Manila due to the number of guests wishing to travel so there was one member of cabin crew and a small toilet in the back (as well as a pressurised cabin!)

Larger aircraft for the flight back to Manila, Amanpulo

Larger aircraft for the flight back to Manila

Tour of the Beach Casita

All the rooms are the same unless you’re in a villa so this will be the same whether you have a beach, hillside or treetop casita. They are all 68 square meters (731 square feet) The decor is also the same throughout.

Seating area and indoor twin divans in a beach casita, Amanpulo

Seating area and indoor twin divans in a beach casita

The room had a spacious king size bed with beautifully soft white linen. A small seating area in front of the bed looking out the windows which is where your daily snacks are left for you. Along the windows are twin divans which mirror those outside on the deck.

Outdoor twin divans looking over the beach, beach casita, Amanpulo

Outdoor twin divans looking over the beach

One side of the room is a kind of desk area which also combines a Nespresso machine and fridge. I think the non-alcoholic drinks in the mini bar were free but there was an additional charge for alcoholic drinks. There’s also wifi, a tv, sound system you can connect your devices to and a safe. All toiletries are provided (including sunscreen and  bug spray) as well as beach bag, beach towels and sunhat.

Beach casita bathroom, Amanpulo

Beach casita bathroom

The bathroom is about the same size as the room with a dressing table area in the centre and bath. This is flanked by twin sinks, twin wardrobe and luggage storage areas and the toilet on one side and shower on the other. The large windows let in quite a bit of light despite the tree cover. There are blinds to pull down for privacy given you’re on the ground floor.

Outside are twin divan beds on the large deck and you’re also supplied with an outside lantern and coil for the mosquitoes. At the bottom of the steps from the deck is an outside shower (beach casita only) and on the short walk through the trees to the beach you can find a hammock, which was decorated with flowers on our arrival.

Amanpulo beach casita

King size bed and seating area with daily fresh fruit snack

The position of the beach casita is just out of this world, nestled in the trees but with glimpses of turquoise water through the branches and a short, white sandy walk onto the beach. For me it will always be difficult to beat the privacy of this room combined with access to the beach. I’d regularly get up around sunrise and wander down to the beach in my robe for a little wander and it would be me alone on the most beautiful beach.

Activities and facilities

In keeping with the Aman chain, there are lots of amazing activities on offer but nearly all of them cost extra. This is a typical gripe in reviews of Aman hotels that there are so many add ons in an already expensive resort. I can see where people are coming from with this, I think they even charge for kayaks, which is kind of ridiculous. But you’re paying for the service which is delivered by the high staff to guest ratio so it doesn’t feel entirely unreasonable to pay for things that cost extra due to additional staffing, equipment, etc. But the prices for these things are high, especially when you consider the actual cost in the Philippines.

Gym

The gym is amazing. Loads of hotels claim to have a gym but this is a properly kitted out gym, despite being fairly small. There are treadmills, rowing machines, kettles bells and dumbells in a full variety of weights. They even have foam rollers, battle ropes and a whole other load of accessories. It’s an extremely well kitted out gym, open 24 hours and it’s possible to book personal training sessions.

Amanpulo gym

Amanpulo gym

There are also complimentary fitness class at Aman Spa most days; a copy of the schedule will be in your room.

Amanpulo gym

Amazing views from the treadmill

Snorkelling and other free activities

Snorkelling

In high season the snorkelling boat leaves from near the Seasports Hut twice daily at 10am and 2pm – I think when we visited there was only a 10am trip and the departure spot sometimes changed due to the weather. You can either stay on the boat or join in the snorkelling – water, towels and snorkelling equipment is all provided.

Shark spotted on Amanpulo snorkel trip

A baby shark do do dodo dodo Spotted on the morning snorkel trip

Walking, running and cycling

There are walking and running trails across the island, as well as a kind of jungle obstacle course. Your guest assistant can also deliver a bike to your casita if you want to cycle around the island. It takes just over an hour to walk around the whole island. There are also 4 tennis courts for hire which are floodlit for nighttime play. Reservations can be made via your guest assistant.

Swimming pool

There’s a 30m pool at the Clubhouse complete with umbrellas, beds and towels (obviously). There are also changing facilities and showers, which makes it a good option for your last morning after check out and you’re waiting for your afternoon flight back to Manila. Other than that I’m not sure why you’d use it when a pristine beach and ocean is around the corner; we never used the pool and spent the whole time at the beach.

Amanpulo swimming pool

Amanpulo swimming pool

The beach

For those not in a beach casita, there are umbrellas and chairs provided outside the Beachclub to enjoy the beach.

Beach chairs outside the Beachclub, Amanpulo

Beach chairs outside the Beachclub

Stargazing

Stargazing is at the Clubhouse from 7.30 to 9.30pm every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday (weather permitting). It’s also possible to book a private session on the airstrip.

Additional activities

You can hire various equipment for watersports activities from the Seasports Hut at an extra charge either independently or with guidance. These include schiller bikes, pedalboard, laser boat, seabob, windsurfs and more.

Fishing, cruises and excursions

You can only fish with a hand-line or small rods in the waters around Amanpulo due to it being a marine protected area. The best time for fishing is between 5am and 9am or 4pm to 7pm. We booked a trip one morning; I wasn’t particularly interested in going but my husband was really excited so we went. I couldn’t have been more wrong-  I had such an amazing time.

Pastries for breakfast on our fishing boat, Amanpulo

Pastries for breakfast on our fishing boat

We started with coffee and pastries for breakfast as we headed out somewhere we could catch fish. Our guide baited our lines and showed us what to do. I thought I’d get bored quickly but found it fascinating (and addictive). We caught a tonne of fish, mostly grouper and snapper, some of which we gave to our guide and captain and the rest we took for the next two days’ lunches and dinners!

Our Amanpulo fishing trip haul

Our Amanpulo fishing trip haul

The fishing trip was expensive but turned out to be a bit of an Amanpulo hack because you can eat the fish you caught (they just charge a small fee to prepare it). It did us for lunch (sashimi) and two dinners (cantonese style fish x 2 and deep fried grouper).

Sashimi for lunch at the Clubhouse from the snapper we caughter earlier that morning

Sashimi for lunch at the Clubhouse from the snapper we caughter earlier that morning

Fried grouper and steamed fish Cantonese style, caught by our own fair hands earlier that day

Fried grouper and steamed fish Cantonese style, caught by our own fair hands earlier that day

The cheapest boat is 18,000 pesos / £300 for 2 hours so it’s super expensive but amazing fun, beautiful and you get to eat what you catch, which it’s hard to put a price on.

Private cruises and excursions are also available. Prices are high but when in Rome…

Turtles

Sea turtle nesting season is from June to November, when green and hawksbill sea turtles lay their eggs on Amanpulo’s beach. Collected eggs are transferred to the turtle hatchery which then hatch from August to January.

Turtle release on the Amanpulo beach

Turtle release on the Amanpulo beach

They release turtles on the beach when they’re ready and lucky guests (including us!) as able to watch. This was an unexpected but amazing bonus to our stay.

Baby turtles ready for the ocean

Baby turtles ready for the ocean

Restaurants and dining

Amanpulo has a number of restaurants across the island. All are open year round except for the Nama at the Lagoon Club which is open November to May according to Amanpulo literature, although we were there in November and it wasn’t open; it may have been under renovation at the time as we did see a building where work was being done. Nama is a Japanese restaurant and open for dinner only.

Clubhouse

Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, this is really the ‘main’ restaurant which is where you gather to head to the airstrip at the end of your stay and it’s where the pool, library and shop are and where stargazing takes place in the evenings.

Tuna kinilaw at the Clubhouse restaurant, Amanpulo

Tuna kinilaw at the Clubhouse restaurant

It serves Filipino and international cuisine using food from the islands organic farm and local communities. We had our first dinner in the clubhouse and chose Filipino food since it was our first night in the Philippines.

Pork sisig at the Clubhouse, Amanpulo

Pork sisig at the Clubhouse

I had a tuna kinilaw (like ceviche) followed by pork sisig (which I actually didn’t particularly like because it’s so fatty – I think that’s me rather than the Amanpulo chefs though) followed by mango pandan crepe.

Mango pandan crepe, Clubhouse, Amanpulo

Mango pandan crepe

Clubhouse Filipino dining experience offer for 3,750 pesos, Amanpulo

Clubhouse Filipino dining experience offer for 3,750 pesos

Clubhouse shared dishes and dessert menu, Amanpulo

Clubhouse shared dishes and dessert menu

Clubhouse main course menu, Amanpulo

Clubhouse main course menu

Clubhouse salad, starters and soups menu, Amanpulo

Clubhouse salad, starters and soups menu

Delicious khao soi for dinner at the Clubhouse, Amanpulo

Delicious khao soi for dinner at the Clubhouse

Beachclub

The Beachclub is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We had breakfast there most days because the setting is beautiful, right on the beach with huge open doors and windows overlooking the water.

Breakfast at the Beachclub, Amanpulo

Breakfast at the Beachclub

There are a range of breakfast items available but the pork adobo is by far the tastiest. It comes with rice, a fried egg and a delicious chilli, soy and garlic sauce.  I could eat that for breakfast every day of my life (except I’d be the size of a house).

Pork adobo for breakfast at the Beachclub, Amanpulo

Pork adobo for breakfast at the Beachclub

It serves Mediterranean food (including pasta and pizza) and live seafood for lunch and dinner.

Cacio e pepe for lunch at the Beachclub, Amanpulo

Cacio e pepe for lunch at the Beachclub

Lunch menu at the Beachclub, Amanpulo

Lunch menu at the Beachclub

Lunchtime sushi at the Beachclub, Amanpulo

Lunchtime sushi at the Beachclub

Private dining

Amanpulo offers various private dining experiences including picnics and Filipino barbecues to be enjoyed on the beach, in a secluded cave or on the hillside. These meals can also be taken at the casita – reservations are required.

Lechon on the beach, Amanpulo

Lechon on the beach

As part of an experience you can also book private lunches and dinners at the Kawayan Bar, where you can snorkel and swim (5,000 pesos / $80 for two hours use including cocktails), on the Sandbar (season dependent) or arrange a private barbecue (you can choose to have this on the beach outside your casita, the Lagoon Sala, Island Cave or Gary’s Nest). You can also have picnics made up to enjoy on the island (3,250 pesos / £50 per box) which are served in bento boxes handwoven from pandan grass from the Manamoc community, who live on the neighbouring island.

Our table on the beach for our private beach BBQ, Amanpulo

Our table on the beach for our private beach BBQ

We enjoyed a private barbecue on the beach outside our beach casita and chose the lechon (suckling pig) with kinilaw to start. It was the most beautiful set up with lanterns and a fire, a table right on the sand and a private serenade. It’s toppy at 9,750 pesos each (minimum of two people) bringing it in at just over £300 for two people. It was worth every penny and I’d do it again if I went back.

Lechon dinner on the beach, Amanpulo

Lechon dinner on the beach

The service

Once you arrive this is almost impossible to fault. The one and only time someone will ask who you are is when you very first arrive at the Amanpulo lounge at the private air terminal. After that point everyone knows who you are. You will be met, as if by magic, from the plane by your ‘guest services coordinator’ who acts as a kind of shared butler during your stay. They will take you on a tour of the island in your private golf buggy (which is yours for your stay), show you your room, take your card details for payment and give you their number.

Amanpulo beach casita

Welcome flower garlands and the beautiful touches in the room

You can contact them throughout your stay for assistance and information. I sent ours back and forth to the diving shop multiple times for different size flippers and a snorkel mask and when I asked about the strange donkey-like sound I could hear at night, she offered to send some kind of gecko removal squad round to the casita to flush out the offending creature (I declined). You will never be asked for your room number at any of the restaurants (but it all magically appears on your bill at the end).

You also never come across anyone cleaning your room or any area near your room, it all happens when you’re out, even if it feels like you’re around your room most of the day. I thought it was some kind of witchcraft until I noticed the snorkel captain surreptitiously radioing someone and listing room numbers so they knew we were out for an hour or so.

Amanpulo chocolate turtles

Amanpulo chocolate turtles

One of the other Amanpulo touches that they’re famous for is giving you a new gift each day which appears as part of the turn down service. At the end of your stay you get the famous Aman luggage tags with the name of your resort and, obviously, your details already written on them because attention to detail is everything.

There was one downside to our stay which happened before we got there. When paying our deposit we were asked for a card to ‘hold’ the reservation with a message that it would not be charged. They then sent a link to pay the deposit, which I did and subsequently found out the card used to hold the reservation had also been charged meaning I paid the same c. £2,000 deposit twice. It took over a month to get the money back and the communication wasn’t great while doing this with me constantly having to chase. On the plus side they were very apologetic and did upgrade us to a beach casita as a result of the trouble which is a significant upgrade cost-wise from a treetop casita which we had booked.

The poor communication continued pre-holiday with me having to send the same information twice regarding both the experiences we wanted to book (which we did online with the reservation but they had no record of) and information regarding our flight into Manila. There appeared to be no system on Amanpulo’s end to organise any of this pre-trip information, which is pretty disappointing given the price – if it had impacted my actual stay I’d have gone mad.

It didn’t ruin the holiday because they were able to right it with the upgrade, but I very nearly changed my mind about going at all because of it as I was worried about the service I would receive when I got there; at that price you do expect everything to be perfect.

Is Amanpulo worth it?

In a word, yes. I wouldn’t have said this 5 years ago, but as work and life gets busier and busier it’s harder to put a price on going on holiday and not having to worry about anything. You really couldn’t fault the service, nothing was too much trouble and there was real attention to detail to make your life easy – they would even re-park your golf buggy while you were at dinner to make it easier to get out when you left.

The setting is beautiful, all of the experiences we had were top notch, we got to swim with turtles, watch baby turtles being released on the beach and the food was great and gave you a chance to try local food rather than just ‘fancy’ food. DSC06122

 

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